Cornfields and Dreamfields

The New Bridge

The New Bridge

 

States of the States in Casinoland: Cornfields  and  Dreamfields

Summary:  An overview of casino spread in the United States                                             (1) Looks at locations and fiscal markers of “cornfield casinos” in Iowa, a thinly-populated state that  has  eighteen commercial casinos and two Indian ones.                                       (2) Discusses likely rationales for two sites proposed for new casinos in Iowa.                (3) A table using  figures from  the American Gaming Association web site  compares  year-2012 fiscal data for commercial casinos or racetrack electronic gaming devices  among all  twenty-three states that have either or both.  States can be ranked on  characteristics such as “win per capita” or taxes paid to government.  

Talking with someone from a very small city in NY (pop 900)   proposed as casino site,  I  remarked  naively that it must be unique in the country in being a truly rural community into which a commercial casino might come. I had thought all commercial casinos are in suburbs,  exurbs or fair-sized towns when  not in big cities.  Iowa then came to mind as predominantly rural but with commercial casinos.

A look at that state surprised me.  Iowa has fifteen commercial casinos classed  as “riverboats,”  three tracks with electronic gambling devices (EGDs)  and two Indian casinos.   It is hard to understand how the state could support so many; yet it is  considering two more.    This count led me  to compare Iowa to other states as to number, size and locations of casinos.  Two questions arose:  (1) were  impacts on small rural communities  assessed  in any way by  independent studies?  (2) how  did landlocked rural casinos fare financially compared to ones at riverside  or more urban settings?

Question 1 is a rapid dead end. No.  Question 2 opened a window on the United States as casinoland that this essay props wide.

To imagine from  the Iowa experience what a very small rural community in upstate NY might expect from a casino’s arrival,   I picked  four  similar locales in Iowa that now have casinos and one (Jefferson, in Green County) for which a casino is proposed.  Click here for a map.    Four locales were chosen by developers.  One, in Tama (Tama County),  is Indian-operated and was thus not free to roam.  Because it is a small “city” like the other four  and evidently  a test case for new competition while Iowa plans  more  casinos,  I included Tama.

Emmetsburg, pop 3900,  is home since 2006 to the Wild Rose Casino (550 slots,  17 table games, or TGs).   The casino is right in town on (literally)  Main Street,  US Rte 18,  which crosses the state.  Emmetsburg is the County Seat of Palo Alto County,  with a population  density of 16.5/sq mile it ranks 84th out of 99 in the state (Iowa pop. density is about 54/sq mi).  The town’s web site shows merited civic pride in history.    A report by a consulting group  in 2009 commented that there are no communities of much size nearby,  though Highway 18 eases travel.  The report stated that win/admission ratio (“win” means “gaming revenue”  of course)  and gaming revenue in first two full years were below most other markets in Iowa.  This is still true through FY 2013.

Northwood, pop 1989,  hosts  the Diamond Jo Worth casino  with 1000 slots and 32 TGs.  The casino is right off  I-35,  ( 9 mi west of the center of town)  about 25 mi south of  I-90 as it traverses southern Minnesota.   Click here for  Christmas Greetings from the casino in  2009.   Worth County ,  with population  density of 18.9 / sq mi,  ranks 76th in the state.   The  report by a consulting group in 2009 remarked that  the casino’s nearness to I-35 brought Mason City  into its reach at the time.  In its first two years the casino had an   “win”/admission ratio  and adjusted gross gambling revenues that outdid the state average.

Larchwood (pop.  866) is the city in Iowa most remote from  the capital, Des Moines.  Lyon County ranks 75th in state in pop density,  at 19.7.  In the northwest corner of Iowa,  Larchwood  saw in 2011 the rapid   opening of the Grand Falls casino,  which cost $120 million and offers   900 slots.  Tables games are now up to thirty-seven. This casino was obviously sited to capture Sioux Falls, South Dakota,  the largest city in that state.  A website blurb says it’s just eight minutes from Sioux Falls.  Actually eight miles from the extreme eastern side,  it is  more like 15 mi and 25 minutes from the center of the city.  The manager of the Grand Falls casino   told a reporter that she expected  an annual revenue of $70 million,  with 80%  to come from out-of-staters.

South Dakota  on the AGA listing ( see table below ) has thirty-five (35) “casinos”  but total “gaming” revenue is only $107M with revenue to state only $ 16.6M.  [Note well: these data may be wrong, but are copied correctly from the web site.]  I did not research the  state  in detail but would guess that many  of the “casinos” are like Borrowed Buck’s Roadhouse, the only “casino” in Sioux Falls that shows on a commercial website map  It has ten (10)  VLTs, pool tables and foosball.  South Dakota had decided,  upon legalizing casinos,  to put all its  real commercial casinos in one town,  Deadwood, almost 400 miles from Sioux Falls.   Since 1989 S. D. has had video lottery.  In FY 2013 an average of 9133 machines operated in the state in an average of 1426 establishments.  The nearest real casino to S.F. is an Indian one at Flandreau, 44 miles away.   A casino in nearer-by Larchwood was supposed to appeal to people in Sioux Falls who want live table games and lots of slots.

In Larchwood  gaming revenue has not reached the anticipated 70 M .   At 59 M for 2012 it was in the red $ 4.8 million.  Adjusted gross revenue in 2013 was $58 million, and the “win”/capita $46 in FY 2013, below the state average.  It may be that Sioux Falls gamblers find the convenient VLTs in town surpass the call of the casino.

These three active commercial casinos can be compared in the table to the fifteen “riverboat” casinos in Iowa, which includes them.  Data are for FY 2013   Some figures are rounded-off.

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The Albany Gambling Diet

albanydiet  The Albany Gambling Diet

Thoughts on Healthier Eating

by

David Colavito

 

 

 

     When you consider how injurious the socioeconomic consequences of state-sponsored gambling are, compared to its benefits, you have to ask why Governor Cuomo is promoting the expansion of casino gambling, let alone as economic development.  Sure, “gambling is already here” and “New York needs jobs” – neither is in dispute.  And used as they are to promote the Governor’s plan, they’re certainly appealing.  That’s the sweet side of half-truths many of us prefer to our vegetables.  But if Albany isn’t serving a balanced meal, it’s in our interests to understand why.  I’m suggesting it’s a failure of imagination. 

    The thesis has been with me for some time and came into sharper focus recently while reading False Idyll, an essay by J.B. MacKinnon.  Dealing with an unrelated topic, MacKinnon’s words struck me as eerily apropos to the social injustice inherent to the casino economy – “…  the way you see the world determines much about the world you are willing to live in …“ 

    And because I choose to be generous in spirit, I choose to believe Governor Cuomo’s promotion of the casino economy is rooted more in how he sees the world rather than in the belief he can make it better.  It’s an unfortunate conclusion, considering what life would still be like if others before him had constrained their own imaginations when confronted with the same choice on important public policy matters: emancipation and suffrage to name just two.

    And though you might argue Mr. Cuomo’s recent policy commitments to gun control and gay marriage render my thesis flawed, I’d respond by saying perhaps you’re correct, but unlike for example integration in the south, I don’t think either would have occurred without strong political winds blowing at Mr. Cuomo’s back.  Regardless, what really matters is the facts of the casino economy, their implications for social injustice, and Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to acknowledge either in his pursuit to fill state coffers.  All of which is also to say, his fixation on the gambling economy is apt subject material for an as-yet conceived book to be titled after MacKinnon’s essay.

    So, what might we imagine if enough people in Albany saw the world more through the lens of what it could be rather than the way it is?   Given that the majority of casino gambling revenue dollars come from the minority of gamblers with serious gambling disorders, would lawmakers continue to endorse expanding that predatory business model to increase state revenues?  And given the well-established relationship that increased opportunity to gamble produces more people with serious gambling disorders, would they continue promoting state policies that cultivate making people sick to balance budgets?  Or, might they instead work to formulate policies that mitigate the interstate impacts of gambling so often used to conscript state residents in a race-to-the-bottom casino economy?  I think we know what they’d choose.  And there’s also recent precedence for pursing equally important objectives.  Consider, for example, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Regardless of where you come down on the 2nd amendment debate, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t just believe in the need for federal gun policies that don’t undermine those of states; he’s a fierce advocate for them in Washington.

    Still shooting for the stars you say?  How about then just punting for the moon?  Albany could acknowledge a false premise it uses to pursue expanding the failed policy of state-sponsored gambling, though I suspect it isn’t spoken aloud there often.  It’s the keystone for the arch of my thesis – “we’re desperate; what else can we do if we don’t promote gambling?”

    The answer is, plenty. 

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States Playing “Race to the Bottom” with Casinos

Image Source: (Syracuse Journal, September 18, 1891) “A romanticized cutaway sketch of an early Erie Canal packet boat.”http://stagecoachdays.blogspot.com/

That the amendment proposed to the NYS Constitution for 2013 would greatly increase the occurrence of problem gambling and gambling addiction in New York is a strong argument against its utility.  Another is that it would if passed set neighborhoods and other community levels against each other in hostile and envious competion  where everyone loses in the end.  This can be framed as a Prisoner’s Dilemma, a staple in game theory.

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